I'll admit it. Wednesday's win over KU had me thinking about what could be for this team. That's not to say I didn't take the Mizzou game seriously, or think that we could get away with anything less than maximum effort, but I started to dream. And then the dream turned into a nightmare, with a 77-74 ending.
A lot of credit has to go to Mizzou's players and coaches in this one. They stepped up the last 10-15 minutes of the game when our players put the brakes on, started hitting some shots, got the crowd excited, and rode the wave to a victory.
What I liked...
Blake Young continued his solid play and stepped up his scoring, at least in the first half. He had 14 points, grabbed four rebounds and hit all three of his free throws.
We rebounded well. Granted it shouldn't have been difficult to outrebound an undersized and shorthanded Missouri team, but we pulled down 38 boards. That included 13 offensive rebounds.
What I didn't like...
We displayed a total and complete inability to put our foot down on Mizzou's throat and end its chances. Michael Beasley summed it up nicely...
"Just stopped playing. Just laid down. Played like boys instead of men."
When the Cats pulled out to a 14-point lead in the second half, there was suddenly a sense of "well, we've done the hard part, this one's over." And granted, Mizzou was doing its best opossum impersonation, as the Tigers really did act like they were dead. But suddenly a three-pointer goes in, and then another, and suddenly the crowd gets a little jolt of energy, and then a drive to the hoop, and some defense, and the crowd starts roaring...it happens. Mizzou showed today what can happen on the road against a team that is capable of getting insanely hot (they shot 60+ percent after intermission. Think about that for a minute...60+ percent!!!).
While it wasn't really their fault, Beasley and Bill Walker disappeared for long stretched of yesterday's game. The two combined for only 28 points. Beasley usually gets about that much by himself. Like I said, it's not all their fault, because the guards have to feed it to them, and with only 13 assists on the day, we obviously didn't see much in the way of good ball movement.
Our inability to handle Mizzou's zone in the second half was baffling. It's not like we've never seen a 3-2 zone before, but suddenly our offense consisted of Blake Young and Clent Stewart playing catch 40 feet from the basket. Take it away, Coach Martin...
"Their zone bothered us, got us extended, had us playing in areas where it's hard to score the ball," said coach Frank Martin. "As a whole, Mike included, we didn't do a very good job of getting to the areas we talked about getting to."
Quick ball movement, ball reversals, skip passes, and penetration will beat a zone. We did all but four of those things. The players looked a little tentative when Mizzou started its run, like they were trying to protect the ball and the lead.
"It wasn't me," he [Beasley] said. "It was us. We just played scared."
According to Coach Martin, we got the shot we wanted on that last possession when Bill Walker missed a three from the wing.
"We ran two shooters (Michael Beasley and Clent Stewart) off screens, and got Bill the ball right in the middle of the floor (he eventually drifted to the right side). Bill’s been shooting the ball real well for us. We got a shot. We just didn’t make it."
I guess it wasn't a terrible look, but all Walker really did was catch the ball, meander toward the three-point line, and then pull up for a shot with a hand in his face. We made no attempt to make a pass or two and get somebody an open look. Further, that's not really Walker's shot. His best look from three-point range is almost a set shot, and he had to elevate with the defender right in his grill.
Where we're headed...
Like the title of the post says, this game is not the end of the world. The Topeka Capital-Journal's Rick Dean comes close to the mark with this column, although I wouldn't have considered beating Mizzou to be the huge step he considered it. It really was just another game where we needed to come out and take care of business.
In my opinion, we showed through the first 25-30 minutes of yesterday's game that we can handle success. We built leads of 15 points in the first half and 14 in the second half. As Coach Martin explains, it's not like we have a hangover and were out of it from the start...
"We’re up 16 (actually 15). If there’s a hangover (from the KU game), we never have a chance to win the game."
We made several tactical errors that contributed to our demise. One, as pointed out to me in an email by reader ksubailey, was taking both Beasley and Walker out at the same time in the first half. While they do need to take occasional rests and we were leading comfortably at the time, taking both out sends the message that we're in control and aren't worried about anything happening.
Second, we started to take the air out of the ball in the second half when we built the 14-point lead. Usually shortening the game is the way to go when you have a big lead, but with Mizzou as shorthanded as they were, we needed to keep the pressure on. The Mizzou players, notably game star J.T. Tiller, admitted they were gassed after the game. If we would have kept them running and defending, we could have run them right out of their own gym.
Finally, I can't figure out why we stayed man-to-man all the way through the last 10 minutes of the game. Mizzou was killing us with penetration and hitting shots in the lane. It seems to me that trying out 3-2 zone might have taken away some of those driving lanes. Of course, the way they were hitting threes, they may have shot us out of the zone, too.
Folks, don't jump off a cliff over this one. We were bound to lose a conference road game somewhere along the way, and when a team gets a little home-court magic rolling like MU did yesterday, things like that happen. We are still 5-1, still lead the conference with the tiebreaker over KU (Edit: That is obviously and stupidly wrong. KU is 6-1.--TB), and have several winnable games coming up. We didn't take the step forward that we wanted to take yesterday, but it's not a crushing defeat either. We need to move on to Nebraska. That said, here are your updated conference standings, along with each team's next opponent.
KU 6-1 (Missouri, Monday)
K-State 5-1 (Nebraska, Wednesday)
Texas 4-2 (@ Oklahoma, Wednesday)
Baylor 4-2 (Texas Tech, Wednesday)
Texas A&M 4-3 (@ Iowa State, Tuesday)
Oklahoma 3-3 (Texas, Wednesday)
Texas Tech 3-3 (@ Baylor, Wednesday)
Iowa State 3-4 (Texas A&M, Tuesday)
Missouri 3-4 (@ KU, Monday)
Nebraska 2-4 (@ K-State, Wednesday)
Oklahoma State 1-6 (Colorado, Wednesday)
Colorado 1-6 (@ Oklahoma State, Wednesday)
Speaking of that upcoming Nebraska game, I have a special post coming up this week. A friend of mine who has worked in the coaching business in the past will be doing a preview of the Cornhuskers for me, and I will be returning the favor for his Web site. Look for that on Tuesday or Wednesday.